Strack & Van Til switches over to new wholesaler this week

Workers stock fruit and build displays in tjr huge produce section at the Strack and Van Til store in Schererville.

John Luke, The Times

Strack & Van Til is starting to use its new wholesaler this week, which will result in more variety on the supermarket's shelves.

The Highland-based grocery chain, which operates 20 stores in Northwest Indiana, has had less selection than usual recently as it transitions away from longtime supplier Central Grocers, which is winding down after filing bankruptcy. But Indiana Grocery Group Chief Executive Officer Jeff Strack said the new wholesaler, Kansas City-based Associated Wholesale Grocer, should fix that.

"We temporarily lost variety in our stores," he said. "We lost new items. We're excited to get back to putting new items on our shelves. There's been a lot of work done to get us to this point, and there will be more work in the coming weeks."

AWG is five times larger than Central Grocers was and offers the IGA, Best Choice, Clearly Organic, Always Save and Superior Selections generic brands. Strack & Van Til stores will carry all of those brands to replace Centrella, which Central Grocers had produced.

Strack said AWG will supply more organic items, more lower cost items to compete with discounters like Aldi and Save-A-Lot and more variety.

"They have 4,000 private label items, which is four times what Central Grocers did," he said. "We won't bring them in all at once, but we'll be restocking the shelves as we go."

Strack & Van Til has started to stock AWG perishables and will continue to add its primary grocery lines. The management continues to work on bringing the chain back after Central Grocer's extended bankruptcy following a failed attempt at a sale that started late last year.

"We're getting back to rebuilding what makes Strack & Van Til special," Strack said. "We're meeting with the people in our stores and putting together new strategies."

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Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.